Being a Male Nurturer

Amy R. Buckley

Gil George-Male NurturerMy friend Amy Buckley asked me to share some of my process around being a stay-at-home dad/ male nurturer. I hope that this writing can be a good window into some of what it is like to be a male nurturer in American Christian culture.There are all these lists of things that make you a “real” man, a “biblical” man, or a “manly” man. All of these lists and cultural norms promote this distant “provider” figure who exerts authority and discipline over the whole family. These are the lists I heard growing up, and I died inside every time I heard them because I knew that I wasn’t that person.

I am a male nurturer; my gifts are the gifts of hospitality, generosity, mercy, and teaching. I love with depth and passion, and my dream work is to develop others’ gifts so they can grow as people and do God’s…

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Dear God Time


In a recent conversation on a Facebook parenting group, we were discussing prayers at bed time and how we approached end of the day prayers with our kids. It was a fun discussion, and there were some fun aspects to discussing kids and God. One of the things I noticed was that the bedtime prayers really opened a window into the parents’ relationship with God. Our bedtime prayers have evolved over time as both of our children resonate with different pieces and have helped them change. So it is a little early, but welcome to what my daughters call “Dear God Time.”

Dear God thank you for (Children’s names). Help them to have a good night’s sleep and wake up silly, happy, and ready for a fun day (with people, at school, etc.)

Is there anyone you want to thank God for? (At this point my girls have a short list: Sarah, Nana, and Uncle Josh. Our youngest usually adds “Mama’s friend Winda.”)

Is there anyone you want to pray for? (This is such an amazing window into their lives and the people they are concerned about.)

Thank you for this beautiful world we live in. Help us to take good care of it, appreciate its beauty and love it as you do. Is there anything in the world you are thankful for or want to pray for? (We had a six month period of praying for the clouds.)

Thank you for our friends, our family, and all the people with whom we share this beautiful world. Let all of us know your love, your presence, and your peace.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

This is usually followed by singing a couple of songs, blowing kisses, and a silly game in which I say a bunch of words that begin with the letter “p” to which my girls respond “No! Pillow!”

 

 

If You Keep Picking At It…

I heard these words often growing up, and there was something about the temporary relief from the itch of healing skin that made me not care. In the healing process we often choose temporary relief over long term health, and this shows up in our mental health as well as physical. I am part of some online groups of people who are recovering from church inflicted wounds, and some of the posts I judgmentally assign into the category of scab picking. This is something I get to wrestle with in my healing journey, and it is entirely possible that the only scab being picked by those posts are mine. This post is more about my journey and recognizing that I am not so much judging as projecting my experience at “picking at it” onto others.

The “picking posts” I see are usually some egregious meme copied from Facebook or “Can you believe what this person from the tribe we left said?” My response is usually, “Yes I can believe it, which is why I left in the first place.” Part of me wants to yell  what my mom told me so long ago: “If you keep picking at it, it won’t get better.” Another part recognizes the need for some kind of relief or validation. “Please tell me I am not crazy for wanting to leave this!” I get it. I have been there. The pain and need for relief are REAL!

There is a point at which I have to stop picking, stop checking back to see if things have gotten better, and recognize that the loss is real and restoration of relationship is beyond my ability to achieve. I have to say that on my healing journey away from the fear-mongering in some evangelical subcultures I have found that repeated exposure to the fear-mongering doesn’t bring healing. Watching from the sidelines and chewing over what is happening just reopens the wounds and the bleeding starts again.

The more we pick, the greater the chance that there will be scars.While there are some people who I love and care for still in the old tribe, I will ruthlessly cull them and everything from the tribe they are attached to from my social media feeds when their posts reopen wounds. This is the hard part of the healing process: cutting myself off from the source of my wounds. There are strained relationships, but saying to these friends and loved ones: “Sorry, I only want to be connected to you in real life, not social media.” sets an important boundary. Setting this boundary gives me the opportunity to be in relationship with them and to not have the daggers of fear and misplaced rage surface in my daily life.

I can’t tell you that you are picking at scabs, (Unless I actually see you do that. Then: Ew! Gross!), but sometimes what I see in groups and ex-evangelical writing feels like scab picking to me, so maybe it is worthwhile to raise the question: Are we applying healing balm or picking at scabs? For me the answer can vary by the hour, but maybe asking the question is what’s important?

 

The Rough Side of the Mountain

There is an old gospel song with the title of this blog post, and the more I think about my experience of the last few years and some of my experiences hiking with my wife, the rough side of the mountain feels like a pretty apt metaphor. There are times in our lives when it feels like every possible “other shoe” that could drop has dropped, when all the balls that were being juggled are bouncing around us and one precious ball is being cradled in our arms. The rough side of the mountain looks different depending on the burdens we carry as we climb, but in my case the helplessness of sick kids combined with community loss helped me make a huge realization about who I am and what I am called to be as a pastor and father.

In many ways I have dropped almost every other ball to focus on supporting my three-year-old daughter and to keep our home a place of warmth, welcome, joy and solace. I get to be that Daddy right now, but after so many blows it feels like I am climbing up the rough side of the rock slide. Every time it seems like we got to the bottom of all the health issues with our daughters, a deeper issue surfaced. Still happening, but the other stresses have cleared. I made it through the depression and the anxiety following the loss of a community, and now stand at this strange place of waiting. Not yet hopeful, but not despairing. Knocked to the bottom of the mountain I looked up and realized: “I have been climbing the wrong ____ing, God______, stupid mountain.” I had tried to live up to expectations that God had not created me to meet. (I will pause for the experienced pastors to twitch/grimace.)

I am called to nurture others, to live out Jesus’ care for the marginalized, the hungry, the hurting, to mentor others as they grow in faith. These come with a different set of roughness, but roughness I am designed for. Right now I have the joy of practicing my gifts of nurture by holding my hurting girls tight, giving them snuggles and kisses, singing silly songs that make them giggle, and remembering and living out who I am and what I am called to be. I am climbing the rough mountain of realizing how far I strayed from my true self, and now am finally happy to be where I am: At the bottom of a new, still rough sided, mountain. But it is my rough mountain now and not the deadly peak of others’ expectations.

Insecurity and Domination – A Male Perspective

The Torah begins with a description of the way things were made to be and how quickly we humans stepped away from the goodness of creation. We went from mutually reflecting the glory of God to a battle for domination that left the weak at the mercy of the strong. We went from being stewards of God’s garden to fighting the soil for domination, bending the created order to our will rather than submitting to God’s will. This state of affairs persists and even though we have been freed from the curse that afflicts us, we still find ourselves trying to live it out. For those of my readers unfamiliar with Genesis 3, the main text of the curse is:

stewardstodom16 To the woman God said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam God said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (NRSV)

It is important to note that this passage refers to a consequence of leaving God’s will for creation. Nothing in the above passage reflects God’s original intent in creating the universe. Many people who are sincerely trying to follow Christ miss that: ruling, dominance, toil, and pain are a curse and are not God’s intent for us.

For many years I held to the misunderstanding that The Curse was a divine edict establishing the way things should be. I was wrong, and my belief had consequences in my relationships because the standards of manhood, which were promoted by my churches of origin, were impossible to live into in a healthy way.unhealthystandards

“Dominate women, but love them as Christ loved the church. “

“Dominate the Earth and use it up because God’s going to burn it all up anyway, but be a good steward of the resources God gives you.”

“Real men are always in control, but do what we say and don’t ask questions.”

These are just a few of the unrealistic expectations that breed isolation and which led to deep insecurities and self-loathing in me. I felt a deep sense of shame that I couldn’t do all of the “man things.” No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t control everything at all times, least of all myself.

I witnessed how structures of domination in relationships led to insecurity on the part of dominator and dominated. My parents struggled through this for most of my growing up, and it got very hard at times when the fear of disconnection that lies at the core of all shame reared its ugly head. All parties ended up living in fear of each other: The dominators fear the uprising of the dominated and the dominated fear the reprisals of the dominators.

Structurally imposed fear and insecurity are very difficult to disentangle ourselves from, truly living up to being “The Curse” imposed in Genesis. What a doozy of a curse that is. We keep coming back to it and trying to order our lives by it, but we forget that to live under the curse is to live a dis-ordered and disconnected life.

When we give into fear we respond by trying to exert power over others, to control them for our benefit. This leads to relational damage, and the feedback loop begins. Take a look at the rhetoric surrounding the current political campaigns and try telling me with a straight face that there isn’t a feedback loop of fear in any of the candidates. Every candidate has an “enemy” that they offer “control” over, and it degenerates pretty rapidly as the fear travels down the lines of listeners.

I see the same fear feedback pattern in the churches I grew up in that esteem systems of Patriarchy and male domination. The rhetoric gets harsher and deeper control and gatekeeping result from the insecurities inherent within the system itself. This leads to a
fully enclosed feedback loop which ends up burning out or isolating everything connected to it. When peoples’ livelihoodsjesusconfronted are dependent on a structure anything that endangers the structure in any way is perceived as an existential threat, and any proposed change to the system creates anxiety, fear, and insecurity.

The most common response to insecurity is to attack what is threatening the status quo but not the system that is creating the context for the insecurity in the first place. This gets even more complex when religion is thrown in the mix because God then becomes the enforcer of the insecure system. There is hope however. Jesus confronted a patriarchal, top down, “God ordained” system and freed humanity from The Curse through surrender of power.

We have been released from the bondage to systems that thrive on insecurity, and most display the light and life of Christ when we step away from trying to exert control over others’ lives. We have been freed from the power dynamics of The Curse and have been given the paradoxical power of the resurrection life.

Paul’s writing in Galatians 3 is really the centerpiece of the argument that we are no longer under the dominating rule of the Torah contained in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Galatians 3 reminds us that:

10 For all who rely on the works of the law [the Torah] are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”

21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. NRSV (Emphases mine.)

This is our hope as articulated by Paul: When we submit to being one in Christ Jesus all of the external indicators become irrelevant in the presence of the suffering servant. The feedback loop of insecurity and domination is broken for us and we can live out God’s call on us regardless of any external category.

Coming Out of the Darkness

In the past few months I have ridden the roller coaster of grief and loss that comes when things end. Between the end of my call at Clackamas Park, the ongoing implosion of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, and my daughters’ illnesses I caught the lead brick of depression and went down hard. I am finally coming out of it, have done a LOT of reading, and will start posting within the next week or so. I am back, and I feel a sense of direction in what to say after spending a lot of time in the writings of Brennan Manning and Brené Brown.

I have seen the light and it is not at the end of the tunnel but shining from within.

Giving Up the Deadly Distraction of Abstraction

This year as I engage with lent during my recovery from a challenging season of life, I have been led to give up abstraction and take on presence. Abstraction has a few definitions, and I am speaking primarily of allowing ourselves to be diverted to a general idea or quality rather than an actual person, object, or event which leads to the state of someone who is not paying attention to what is happening or being said. To illustrate what I am getting at I would like to tell you a parable.

While on a deep sea fishing trip, some men came upon a family that was clinging to a crudely constructed log raft. When the family saw the boat approaching they began to call for assistance and the fishing boat drew nearer. When the fishermen saw the raft they immediately began questioning the construction of the raft, discussing the knots that were used, the type of wood, and that the raft obviously needed a bit more buoyant wood. Eventually they drifted past the family and continued their fishing trip while discussing the principles of raft building. Later, when the mother of the family and the surviving child were picked up by the Coast Guard they asked through their translator why the other boat kept going past them.

This is the danger of abstraction that the church and I have to address in ourselves, that allowing ourselves to be distracted by issues puts others’ lives in real danger. I have to confront the desire for self-protection that pulls me away from engaging others’ lives. I have to ask myself who I might be passing by when my care could be the difference between being “lost at sea” and someone reaching a “safe and dry” shore. During this Lenten season, I am laying issues like the nature of biblical authority, whose interpretation of the will of God is valid, and what constitutes sin aside and am instead taking on being present to others no matter what. I would like to think that I will be successful at this intention, but old habits are hard to break, and I am in the boat, not the raft. I don’t have the urgency of being forsaken driving me. I am not in danger of death.

That is the truth that God is leading me in, that my calling is not to debate abstractions, but in the words of the old chorus I’ve Got a River of Life, to be a channel for the river of life that flows from God’s Spirit. The truest test of the strength of my faith is not in whether I can win all the spiritual debates, but whether I have a river of life flowing out of me that makes the lame to walk and the blind to see, that opens prison doors and sets the captives free.

Are we ready to step away from the abstract spiritual debates that bring more wounds and distract us from God’s mission and instead be present to those who are wounded and hurting no matter the cause or cost? I don’t know if I am, but with God’s help maybe we can let go of the deadly distraction of abstraction together.